18 December 2015 15:30:16 IST

Banning d***** cars alone can’t help clear Delhi’s air

Instead, a multi-pronged attack should address the various types of pollution affecting the NCR

The Indian Censor Board has a specially created dictionary that is used while screening new movies for what it considers foul language. The Board also uses this unique vocab for rewriting the subtitles that appear at the bottom of the screen, especially for films from Hollywood and other ‘woods’.

It is a classic case of misdirected moral snobbery, where the Censor Board not only bleeps out four-letter words and similar curses, but also replaces some of them in the subtitles with its own supposedly ‘sattvic’ versions. So, S**t becomes ‘Crap’ and S*x becomes ‘Love’. Wonder what will they come up with next; using scientific terms for some on-screen chemistry: “Baby shall we indulge in some osculation!?”

Dirty Picture

Anyway, earlier this week the Censor Board seems to have added the latest ‘dirty’ word to this lexicon. Pardon my impudence; I’m going to have to name it. The offensive word is ‘Diesel’.

Diesel has come under attack in many countries in the last few months, to a point that nobody wants to even utter the term now. Adding fuel to the already raging fire, started by the Volkswagen cheat code scandal, was the Supreme Court ban on new registrations of luxury diesel cars in smog-hit Delhi. Let me add to the chorus and raise the question whether such a ban is the optimal solution to the pollution problem clouding the air in the capital?

Diesel vehicular emissions are only one of the sources of the various types of pollution leading to Delhi’s alarmingly poor air quality.

The real solution will need to involve an improvement in fuel quality, a ban on using firewood, a ban on burning of collected trash and the imposition of higher emission standards, not just for diesel cars, but petrol cars too. Petrol vehicular emissions are about as toxic and noxious as diesel emissions. Most of these measures will be expensive (like lower sulphur fuels), unpopular (especially vis-à-vis burning of wood fires) and will meet with resistance (more stringent emission norms). And of course, these changes need to be executed without any compromises.

Kanoon se bachke...

The Supreme Court ban on luxury diesel SUVs and cars with engine capacities larger than 2,000 cc seems more like an interim measure that will not hurt the ‘Aam Aadmi’ and will temporarily improve the capital city’s air quality. Judicial activism was the reason why Delhi’s air was cleaned up at the turn of the millennium, when the vehicular population was much, much lower than it is today. Hopefully, a similar judicial diktat will help speed up the execution of a multi-pronged attack on the pollution problem instead of the uni-pronged strategy that a ban on diesel vehicles represents.

Years ago, a leading car-maker here came under fire for calling a competitor’s model a ‘dirty diesel’. The car being pitched as the cleaner option was a diesel model too; but featured a more advanced injection system. Today this might seem like “the pot calling the kettle black”. But the fact is that technology can help make diesel cars more efficient and emit much lower emissions. Yes, technology comes at a price. But there is a much larger price to pay if pollution levels are not contained, not just in the capital but in every Indian city.

In the process, if diesel cars turn more expensive, so be it. But, while alternative fuels and other measures are tried out, a uniformity in treatment of vehicles that run on both the fuels — petrol and diesel — needs to be in place. While the automotive industry still wrings its hands indecisively, a leapfrog in emission standards to match global levels will be highly recommended.

In the meanwhile, watch your tongue and bleep the ‘D’ word from your conversations.